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Cheektowaga board vents anger over vacant properties

Pent-up frustration over the vacancies and deterioration of hundreds of properties in Cheektowaga led the Town Board to unleash a blistering half-hour lecture Monday on an unsuspecting Bank of America attorney during a meeting in Cheektowaga Town Hall.

Manik J. Saini, an attorney from the Frenkel Lambert law firm in Amherst, which represents Bank of America in a pending property demolition on Gary Lane, absorbed harsh criticism from all angles of the Town Board, which alleges large, multi-national banks are a scourge on communities like Cheektowaga because of a “bottom line” approach to business.

At issue Monday was 35 Gary Lane – a property on which the Bank of America began foreclosure proceedings in 2008 but did not follow through on. The owners vacated the property and stopped paying debt on it, but the bank never followed through with the costly foreclosure proceedings, and instead kept the property taxes current.

That means the town can’t perform upkeep on the property because it’s privately owned, and Erie County can’t initiate tax foreclosure proceedings because the taxes are paid.

The home, which has been vacant nearly five years, is now attracting nuisance animals like raccoons and skunks, is falling into disrepair and is a blight on the South Cheektowaga neighborhood, according to town officials. And it’s only one of 28 such Bank of America properties in Cheektowaga with similar tales.

“If the Bank of America wants to be a good company in the Town of Cheektowaga, they better get off their butts,” said Charlie Markel, town councilman. “I want somebody to step up to the plate ... I bet the CEO wouldn’t want to live on either side of that” house on Gary Lane.

Councilman James P. Rogowski directed pointed questions to Saini: “What are you going to do with the house? Because we’re going to demolish it. What are you going to do to make that house liveable?”

Added Markel: “If the town takes it down, you’re going to get nothing. You get nothing.”

Saini said representatives from the bank are “in the process of working through these files now” and explained inspections first need to be conducted to determine if the property is financially worth saving for the bank.

Rogowski continued questioning Saini: “What are you doing with 35 Gary Lane? That question needs to be answered, or we’re calling for a public hearing for demolition.”

Modeled after a program in the City of Buffalo, Cheektowaga officials intend to begin erecting signs outside of properties like 35 Gary Lane that list the name of the bank that holds the note on the property as well as any pertinent contact information so irritated neighbors and citizens are empowered to take action.

Saini asked for a 60-day extension for the bank to attend to the matter.

“I’m really trying to do something that’s in the best interest of all the parties involved here,” Saini said.

“Step up to the plate. Be a part of the community. Be good neighbors and do the right thing,” Markel advised him, reserving judgment on the request for extension. “I’m pretty upset about this property. There is no way that this ever should have come into disrepair.”